A goat head was recently discovered in New York’s Prospect Park (apparently for the second time in four years), and already the Internet is abuzz with speculation about insidious forces lurking in New York. Law enforcement frequently assumes, unfairly, that whenever dead animal parts appear in unusual places that Santeria practitioners are to blame, but The Gothamist has done this theory one better by suggesting that the number “93”—which appears on a tag on the goat’s ear—is linked to Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of Thelema. (One wonders how much time the alleged Thelemites spent finding a goat with a numerologically significant ear tag).
Growing up in Texas, I once had the misfortune of getting into a conversation with a Renaissance Faire enthusiast whose hobby was blacksmithing his own swords. He told me how he tested a particularly heavy blade by decapitating his neighbor’s goat. “And the newspaper,” he boasted, “listed it as cult activity!” The point of this story is that people sometimes do leave goat heads in strange places, but their motivations are usually juvenile and improvisational and not representative of a belief system. Furthermore, the media’s predictable response of sensationalizing these cases virtually ensures that severed goat heads will continue to be used by immature and disgruntled people to express their displeasure.
In 1991, while the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hilaleah case was making its way to the Supreme Court, a muzzled goat head was found in the police parking lot. The head was part of a campaign of harassment aimed at mayor Julio Martinez, who was attempting to clean up the city after the previous mayor was suspended for corruption. Martinez’s supporters also received cow tongues and dead fish in their mailboxes. These gestures likely had nothing to do with actual Santeria but were instead meant to exploit fear and animosity about an unpopular religion.
In 2011, a goat head turned up on the porch of a fraternity house in New Mexico. Unlike countless other fraternity pranks, this one drew police investigation and made national news. And last year, a goat head was delivered to Wrigley Field—either to intimidate Tom Rickets, owner of the Chicago Cubs, or to lift a curse. (According to one story, the Cubs were cursed in 1945 by a man who wasn’t allowed to bring his goat into the ballpark.)
Much of our horror and fascination concerning severed goat heads may be due to the fact that we’re almost entirely alienated from our food supply. Many Americans are unaware that goat heads can be acquired from a butcher without any illegal or violent activity involved (and there are numerous recipes available should anyone be interested). Maybe if we stopped getting so excited every time someone left a goat head where it doesn’t belong, the problem would go away by itself.